<!-- IMAGE -->
More than four years after Hurricane Katrina struck and flood waters washed over New Orleans, the city is showing signs of significant recovery. The population is still not back to pre-Katrina levels, but rebuilding efforts and tourism are thriving.
These are known locally as Brad Pitt houses, because money from the actor's Make It Right Foundation supported their design and construction.
There are about 20 such homes here in the Lower Ninth Ward and the foundation hopes to eventually provide secure shelter to 150 families here.
All of the houses are eco-friendly, equipped with solar panels and built to withstand hurricane winds and flooding.
<!-- IMAGE -->
Colin Foots says his new house will come through fine if another powerful hurricane hits.
"Well, I should come through," said Colin Foots. "You see this here? That is concrete and all that outside there is concrete."
Like most here, this house is elevated, and architects are experimenting with other ideas, too.
"This house right here floats," he said. "It is built on a boat. It don't look like it, it looks like a regular house, but it is supposed to raise 12 feet [3.6 meters]."
Floods from Katrina devastated the Lower Ninth Ward. Many houses still have not been rebuilt.
The Brad Pitt houses stand in contrast to the empty lots all around.
These colorful and ultramodern new homes occupy only a small portion of the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina four years ago, but they offer the city something it badly needs, hope for the future.
Tourism also is playing a vital role in New Orleans' economic recovery.
Allison Plyer is director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
"The outpouring from America as a whole in supporting the city of New Orleans has been incredibly important," said Allison Plyer. "It is really immeasurable, how many volunteers have come to help rebuild homes, how they have gone out and raised funds for the city."
Private and government recovery funds have helped New Orleans come through the recession better than some other parts of the country. Plyer says the city's unemployment rate is about two percentage points lower than the national average
"New Orleans is doing well," she said. "It is a gigantic disaster that we are recovering from. It is probably going to take us about ten years, most experts believe, so we are about four years into that."
Plyer says New Orleans' population is about 77 percent of what it was before Katrina, and the city's future depends on developing assets that have always supported the city's economy.
"What New Orleans needs to do is build its transportation infrastructure, you know, ports, railroads," said Allison Plyer. "That is what New Orleans was built for in the first place. The Mississippi River is the transportation artery for a gigantic portion of the entire United States."
There are many problems to be overcome yet, but New Orleans has come a long way in the past few years and people here are more than ready for le bon temps, the good times, to return.